Brian Wilson Keeps ‘Pet Sounds’ Going

IMG_3821What began last year as the 50th Anniversary World Tour of a masterpiece that never had a tour in its time is still on the road, out so long it’s now called “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.”

It circled back to the D.C. area Wednesday for the first of two nights at the Lincoln Theatre and fans couldn’t have been happier. The glummest man there, in fact, may have been the man led out to the white baby grand piano he mostly did not play.

Brian Wilson, who turns 75 next month, has been through a lot in his life and, as depicted in books and the movie “Love and Mercy,” alternately under the control of people who didn’t have his best interests at heart (Murray Wilson, Dr. Eugene Landy) and has found people now who do (his wife and a devoted band). Luckily for fans who love his classic work, he’s fallen in with musicians who love his work just as much and things no fan could have dreamed  — touring at all, let alone playing the whole of Smile or Pet Sounds — have happened.

Wilson still looks glum doing it, but maybe that’s all the ravages of time and medication. The music itself soars.

Not only Pet Sounds, which top to bottom is a classic, replicated lovingly down to bicycle bell, French horn, bass harmonica and theremin, but a full concert’s worth of extras that might otherwise have filled a nostalgic night.

The show’s first act from the dozen well chosen players consists of Beach Boys classics from “California Girls” to a bunch of car songs (“I Get Around,” “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe’’ — featuring the most complex automotive descriptions ever allowed into the Top Ten). Crucially, instead of “Kokomo” or whatever crap Mike Love is singing in his fake Wilson-less touring Beach Boys, here are well-chosen rarities. The show begins, for example, with “Heroes and Villains,” but the version with the “Cantina” insert — as was recorded for “Smile.”

While the bulk of the show is the same, there is some room for variation, and things were slightly different from the last time they were here, or from recent nights in the same tour. There was no “Darlin,’” for example, or nothing from Wilson’s last solo album. I would have loved to have heard “Let Him Run Wild” instead of “She Knows Me Too Well,” but that’s how it goes.

The lesser known “Wake the World” from “Friends” still leads into the glory of “Add Some Music to Your Day”; and there’s an emphasis on the early 70s albums with “Feel Flows,” “California Saga: California” and “Sail, On Sailor.”

The latter came courtesy its original lead singer, Blondie Chaplin, who bounded on stage playing guitar and tambourine, making up for the rock star moves that Wilson ignored. His stint in another great band, the Rolling Stones, seems to have permanently rubbed off on him.

The “California Suite” had some original pedigree as well, written and sung by Al Jardine, the Beach Boys original who went a long way as co-host and assistant in the generous show.

Jardine and especially his son Matt were crucial to the Pet Sounds presentation as well. When Wilson’s vocals couldn’t manage to go higher, it would skip over to Jardine, and finally over to his son doing the highest falsetto parts. They’ve been on tour so long, the transitions are flawless.

It’s poignant to hear author at the at the other end of his life, still musing “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older,” confessing “I’ve been very aware you’ve been patient with me,” admitting “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” or lamenting the smallest of changes (“Where did your long hair go?”) in the concluding “Caroline, No.”

The talented 12 piece band, led by Paul Von Mertens, stretched out only to extend the work’s two instrumentals (which, Wilson still warned the crowd, had “no vocals or singing”).

The vocal harmonies were nearly as amazing as the records; with seven of the 12 joining in at times. Among them, Nicky “Wonder” Walukso still plays that underwater-sounding guitar in Pet Sounds’s title track, and Probyn Gregory, plays everything from French Horn to guitar to a Theremin emulator called the Tannerin. A surprise was Billy Hinsche, of the old 60s superstar boy band Dino, Desi & Billy, on keyboards. (Their “I’m a Fool” was played when he was introduced).

The hits kept coming in the six song encore that kicked off with “Good Vibrations.” I would have expected a note of remembrance for Chuck Berry who inspired so many of their songs, especially when they played their variation of “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” followed by their remake of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

As revved up as the audience got by these, even standing and dancing at last, it was Wilson with his best vocals doing the benedictory, “Love and Mercy,” which proved he could still write great songs a dozen years after Pet Sounds.


The setlist for Brian Wilson Wednesday was: 

  • “Heroes and Villains (Cantina)”
  • “California Girls”
  • “Dance, Dance, Dance”
  • “I Get Around”
  • “Shut Down”
  • “Little Deuce Coupe”
  • “Help Me, Rhonda”
  • “Salt Lake City”
  • “Surfer Girl”
  • “Wake the World”
  • “Add Some Music to Your Day”
  • “California Saga: California”
  • “Don’t Worry Baby”
  • “She Knows Me Too Well”
  • ‘Feel Flows”
  • “Wild Honey”
  • “Sail On, Sailor”
  • “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
  • “You Still Believe in Me”
  • “That’s Not Me”
  • “Don’t Talk (Put Your Heard on My Shoulder)”
  • “I’m Waiting for the Day”
  • “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”
  • “Sloop John B”
  • “God Only Knows”
  • “I Know There’s an Answer”
  • “Here Today”
  • “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”
  • “Pet Sounds”
  • “Caroline, No”
  • “Good Vibrations”
  • “Do You Wanna Dance?”
  • “Barbara Ann”
  • “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
  • “Fun, Fun, Fun”
  • “Love and Mercy”


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